Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vol #1, Col #10: It's in the Clothes We Wear & The Cars We Drive

While I’m no Aimee Brothman (Fanshawe's very own resident fashionista; for those of you who don’t follow her weekly style guide, you should!), I would like to think that I keep a pretty good pulse on what’s in “vogue”. Though admittedly I love my leather and denim, there’s a reason as to why designers consistently look to the past for inspiration, and why “retro”, as it were, has never gone out of style. Whether we’re talking Victorian corsets, pin-up bangs, silverscreen makeup and glamour, or 70s flair, all of these trends have and will continue to be revived (albeit with innovations and/or extensions) because they’re distinctive, original, and timeless in their constitution; rarely can the same be said about purely modern “crazes”. This assertion, however, extends well beyond the red carpet. Design-wise, things of the past had a lot more “personality”. Not only that, they were also far more durable. Perhaps an example would prove illustrative:

I’ve got this horribly ugly
(well quite frankly, “fugly”, see the photo - I wasn't lying) bright neon orange hairdryer quite literally from the 1970s (it was my ma’s) manufactured by Gilette (at one time, there were known for more than just their razor blades). One of my girlfriends, on the other hand, insists on always acquiring the newest and latest in personal adornment devices, and so the other day picked herself up a brand spanking new supposedly “high quality” hairdryer. No joke, within a week, it stopped working and she had to get into this big song and dance with the manager at the store where she purchased it in order to try and get a refund, or at the least, exchange it for one of equal value (hopefully a more reliable model!). Funnily enough, this friend of mine, on several occasions, has outrightly refused to use my hairdryer on her locks, and in fact, makes fun of it quite regularly.

Ah, but you see, it may be ugly, but guess what? It works! It has worked for 30+ years, and with any luck, it’ll work for 30 more, and that my friends, is this week’s thought- provoking topic: how and why is it that we live in a world that supposedly is geared towards making things bigger, better, faster, more efficient, more convenient etc. etc.
(you know all of those “tag” words big business likes to tote when promoting its products), and yet our products constantly break down, malfunction, “go on the fritz”, are recalled, and for that matter, are NEVER easily repaired?! In fact, many a time (especially when it comes to electronics), I’ve been told straight-up by sales associates that it would be cheaper and faster for me simply to just buy a new one.

But I, unlike so many, DON'T want to contribute to this idea of “consumption as waste”. I want to wear my jeans until the threads quite literally tear away from their seams and cannot be sewn back into place. I want to be able to drop my cell phone repeatedly, by accident, perhaps even put it in the dryer, and have it still work. I want to easily be able to acquire necessary upgrades for my computer, without having to purchase an entirely new machine. I want to know that when a company says it’s recycling, it ACTUALLY IS. Why you ask? Because what few people are aware of is that our waste – North America’s and the rest of the Western world’s – ends up in third world countries where migrant workers NOT protected by health, human rights, or sanitation policies, tear apart our items bare-handed in order to salvage whatever they can to make a quick buck (poverty leads to desperation). The consequence? Rampant outbreaks in disease resulting from exposure to toxic metals and chemicals that we put into our devices and other wastes in order to improve so-called “efficiency”…among other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that I look back fondly on a world that once admired Art Deco, instead of mass-manufactured
(and cheaply made, well it’s all outsourced labour, come on) Ikea, where cars were made out of metal and built to last (get yourself a ’88 Chevy Conversion Van like I’ve got for touring, and you’ll get what I mean, she’s a beast!), where people held wardrobe swapping parties, and where when you bought something, because high quality items were rare and super-expensive, you valued those items, and so you made damn sure you were getting everything you could out of that sucker, before it was gonna bite the dust. I still very much live in that mentality.

I don’t care if I can get a Blackberry for $30 if I sign a three year contract nowadays, versus paying several hundred to acquire a cellphone the size of a brick in the 80s, the point is I want QUALITY, I want DURABILITY, and I want VALUE. Not only that, I want something to be more than just a commodity to me – I want aesthetic appeal. I want my possessions to speak to who I am, as a person. Come on you’re gonna tell me a 2010 Honda Civic is a hotter looking car than a 77’ Trans Am Firebird? No, I didn’t think so. Quite the same logic can be applied to something as basic as the difference in design between a modern day baby stroller and a 1950s perambulator.

Design was once about craftsmanship:
making something truly unique, and priceless, in my view. Moreover said tasks were labour-intensive, and accordingly, products were built to “stand the test of time.” Contemporaneously, while we make wild claims that things are better – that society has “progressed” – I wonder, can you give me any logical reason as to why my 1970s hairdryer still rocks it like it’s no one’s business, but my girlfriend’s was pooched after just a few uses? I assure you it has NOTHING to do with how we care for our possessions, as for that matter, I’m rough on everything I love. Further, I’ve got thicker hair than her (in case you were wondering)!

I don’t know, maybe it just comes down to the simple fact that people don’t take pride in their work anymore – the poor quality speaks for itself. But that would lead to a whole discussion on Marxist’s definition of “worker and workplace alienation”; something, unfortunately, we don’t have time for.